I got hit with a nostalgic craving for a good old fashioned kid movie. The weather was gloomy, and I’d been wanting to take the kids to a show. Today was the day. I was in luck, there was a double feature at 5:35 showing on rue Strasburg at L’Archipel for le Ballon Rouge and Crin Blanc.
The theater itself was a throwback in time. The screen looked half the size it normally is, as if the screen weren’t pulled down completely. There was what appeared to be a stage under the screen. On this stage, there was a piano covered with a red velvet cloth. There may have been 15 rows of seats in the theatre, intimate. When the vendeur finally came down, we bought our tickets and entered the queer little theatre.
Soon, the crackling movie started. Crin Blanc was actually going to be the first up. I hoped it wasn’t going to be very scary or sad, because I really had no idea about this one, something about a boy befriending a horse. It’s billed as a movie without dialogue, but there was indeed a bit of dialogue that I would relay to the children. I kept thinking that since my daughter couldn’t get through The Adventures of Milo and Otis (the slow paced pug and cat story) because she was so sad, I wasn’t sure how she was going to react to this.
It was totally a simple, French 1950’s film, like I was hoping for. The boy has been watching the wild horses of Camargue when he notices some cowboys have rounded them up. All except one, and that is Crin Blanc (White Mane), who fights an ongoing battle to remain wild. The young boy is able to earn the trust of the horse and they become friends. So you have the bad guys- the cowboys, the good guys- the horse and the kid. The region of Camargue is quite scenic and some of the scenes with the horses racing through tall grasses , dunes and the marsh are quite stunning at times. Although simple in its story line, as a spectator you are completely sucked into the plot and it is even thrilling. Of course my kids and I don’t see many movies, so this was like an adventure film for us, and we all quite liked it. To avoid a totally sad ending, the narrator states that the boy and horse swim off to a land where horses and “man” are friends.
Right away, the second film begins, Le Ballon Rouge (the Red Balloon) which is a whimsical story of a boy that “sets free” and “befriends” a balloon . I had been wanting to see le Ballon Rouge for years now, knowing it was vaguely about a boy, a balloon and scenes of Paris. Kind of like Crin Blanc, but with a balloon. The balloon hovers outside the classroom when the boy is in school, and it flies just out of the reach of the mean neighborhood boys who try to steal and stone the balloon. It even flies along behind a bus (the cool old style buses that were open in the back), when the conductor tells the boy the balloon can’t come aboard. There is great footage of a Paris gone by, as it shows the streets of Belleville and Menilmontant as they once were, complete with Citroens and schoolchildren in old fashioned outfits.
I don’t know if the film is supposed to be allegorical, but when the balloon finally is stamped to its death, instead of being a sad moment, something quite joyous happens. The liberation of all the balloons in Paris takes place, which is fun to see. You see two blue balloons flying out of two tiny twin’s hands donning red coats. Balloons work their way out of those chambre de bonne windows in the roofs of apartment buildings. They all get together and surround the boy and you can almost feel the joy of the boy surrounded by so many colorful balloons . He fashions them all together, and then he is lifted into the sky where he floats above the same skyline that began the movie. Again, kind of like Crin Blanc, one disappears at sea, and the other, in the sky.
In all, they were both fun films to see, as well as cinema classics. My children enjoyed the films, especially le Ballon Rouge because the balloon had taken on a mischevious personality that they (and I) could relate to.